Friday, May 24

NC Zoo Working to Secure Funding to Rebuild Aviary

A sign outside the entrance tells guests the Aviary is closed. [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]

ASHEBORO N.C. – The Aviary at the NC Zoo is going to be demolished, but the Zoo is working on securing funds and putting together plans to rebuild.

With its ninety-three species of birds, hundreds of tropical plants, and an environment that mimics the tropical rainforest, the Aviary was a guest favorite since it first opened in 1982. 

In January of 2022, when the Zoo announced the Aviary would be closing due to the threat of Avian Flu, guests expected it would be temporary. Around the same time, a team of engineers was brought in to conduct an inspection of the building and the results were not good. 

“The Aviary is a very humid environment, it’s a very rough environment” said Debbie Zombeck, curator of birds for the North Carolina Zoo and supervisor of the Aviary for over 29 years, in an interview in 2022. After 40 years the building had reached the end of its lifecycle. 

Most of the building, including the panels of the dome, were all original, and those panels were no longer available. Engineers found drainage, foundation, and HVAC issues and eventually concluded that renovations would not be financially viable. 

Between the engineers’ assessment, the condition of the Aviary at the time, and the unknown situation around Avian Flu, Zoo leadership and the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources made the difficult decision to close and take down the habitat.

In April of 2022, the Zoo announced the permanent closure and removal of the Aviary

Response from the public was overwhelmingly negative. The Aviary was a favorite habitat for many who visited, and its abrupt closure left many feeling as if they never got a last chance to enjoy the indoor rainforest like bird exhibit.

In a survey from April of 2022, 89% of those polled said the Zoo should rebuild the aviary.

Zoo administration and the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources heard the response from the public and have been working to secure funding to demolish the Aviary and in the future, rebuild.

The Zoo has hired REI Engineers to work on demolition drawings. “Once the demolition drawings are complete, Zoo staff will work next on the bid process for a contractor to remove the building,” said Diane Villa, Director of Communications and Marketing for the NC Zoo in an email. 

In March of 2023, Governor Roy Cooper introduced his 2023-25 budget proposal. In that budget for the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, $60 million has been marked for “Zoo Aviary replacement,” but that budget hasn’t passed yet.

“Budget negotiations between the House and Senate are ongoing,” says Senator David Craven, Jr. “The Senate budget proposal funds the aviary over four years starting in FY 2023-24. The budget the Senate passed included $6 million over the biennium to start the process of rebuilding the N.C. Zoo’s aviary. The Senate’s proposal anticipates allocating $30 million in FY 25-26 and $24 million in FY 26-27. The House’s budget proposal follows a similar funding schedule but starts in FY 25-26.”

“The aviary has been an integral part of the N.C. Zoo for decades. It was a unique experience that provided visitors an up-close-and-personal look at birds and tropical plants,” says Sen. Craven, who in a statement said he is committed to securing the funds necessary to rebuild the Zoo’s aviary.

“Should the funding come through, the new Aviary design process will begin. It will take time, noting that the North Carolina Zoo is in the process of building the Asia region as a priority. But staff are excited to begin establishing criteria for the birds and the guest experience,” said Villa. “As it is early in the planning and funding phases, it is difficult to set a timeline for when the new Aviary will be completed.”

While no timeline has been announced, sources familiar with the Zoo say a new Aviary may not open until at least 2030.